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Drug Testing News
Students without a
certain amount of head or body hair will be barred from playing
Jeff schools trim hair drug test loophole
Wednesday June 11, 2003
By Rob Nelson
West Bank bureau
Jefferson Parish public school students without a certain
amount of head or body hair will be barred from playing sports
or participating in other strenuous activities under a
tightened drug-testing policy that will go into effect in the
Closing what they described as a loophole in the year-old
policy, which they said resulted in some students shaving most
of their hair so they could provide urine samples instead of
hair for testing, school officials have tossed out the option
of urine samples except for medically documented reasons.
School officials started testing last fall as part of a pilot
program. Tests were mandatory for about 2,800 students wanting
to participate in sports or activities such as cheerleading or
"A lot of kids showed up last year with insufficient hair or
no hair at all," said Freddie Landry, the system's antidrug
and school safety coordinator. "I don't think that's fair for
those kids who did what they were supposed to do."
But some said the new policy, which was approved by the School
Board in May, goes too far and stifles students' freedom of
"To tell a kid he's got to wear his hair in a certain style, .
. . in my opinion, that's going over the line," said Billy
North, longtime head football coach at John Ehret High School
Melkile Favorite, father of West Jefferson High School
football standout Marlon Favorite, agreed that the policy
seems unfair for students who choose short hair. "Some kids
wear their hair low," he said. "That's the style."
Cutting around test
The drug testing program found that fewer than 2 percent of
the 2,800 students tested had drugs in their system.
But another number irked school officials: One hundred and
thirty students had shaved their bodies, allegedly to avoid
giving a hair sample.
Those students provided urine samples, which officials say are
less comprehensive because they do not detect drug use over as
long a period of time as hair samples.
Under the terms of the original policy, which was approved by
the School Board in March 2002, students who test positive
must undergo treatment before rejoining their activity, but
the district does not report them to law enforcement agencies.
The program also includes a random testing component in which
25 percent of previously tested students are selected by
computer for retesting. The program also includes voluntary
testing for all students at Ehret and East Jefferson High
School in Metairie.
The voluntary portion of the program will expand in the fall
to include all high schools, junior highs and middle schools.
The board approved the expansion in May, along with the
revamped testing guidelines.
A more-complete picture
School officials say they are not dictating hairstyles but are
merely setting a basic requirement for students who want to
play sports or join other activities. The voluntary nature of
sports and other groups gives the district the legal backing
to make the requirement, Landry said.
"It was a disadvantage to the hair-tested students and an
advantage to the urine-tested students," said lawyer Blaine
Hebert, who sits on an advisory council overseeing the
program. "We want uniformity across the board."
A hair sample can detect drug use as far back as four months,
but a urine test, even for a chronic drug user, might only go
back about 30 days, Hebert said.
Under the old policy, the 130 students who gave urine samples
had to be retested on a monthly basis, a more rigorous
schedule than hair-tested students because of the time span
difference, Landry said. But even that rule was not enough to
justify using different tests on different students, she said,
adding that the monthly tests also were becoming expensive.
Landry said the 130 students had shaved nearly their entire
bodies to avoid giving a hair sample.
By the end of the school year, though, all of those students
had enough hair to give an adequate sample, she said. At least
a half-inch of hair is needed for the test.
Hebert said he thinks the shaved students were more "testing
their rights" than masking drug use.
'Same goal in mind'
Under the revamped policy, students are allowed to provide
body hair samples instead of hair from their heads. Officials
can take all body hair except pubic hair, according to the
North said he has been critical of the district's drug policy
since its inception, believing that random urine testing would
be a better deterrent to drug use.
"I don't think that hair testing is as accurate as they say it
is," he said, adding that he agrees with district officials
about the need for some form of testing. "We all have the same
goal in mind. We just want to take different paths."
In addition, he said, hair tests do not check on use of
"performance-enhancing drugs" such as steroids, which are the
most serious problem in athletics. Urine samples give a fuller
picture of drug history, North said.
Landry said testing for the nearly 40 types of steroids would
be too expensive.
Even though his son maintains a short haircut, Melkile
Favorite said he respects the policy's attempt to keep
students drug-free. If necessary, he will encourage his son,
who will be a senior next year and is being recruited by
several top colleges, to grow his hair longer. "I don't think
anything is going to stop him from playing sports," Favorite
Word of the policy changes spread to coaches soon after the
board's May approval, Landry said, adding that it has been
their responsibility to inform athletes and their parents.
School officials also are planning visits to schools and will
create brochures about the policy to distribute when school
starts in August.
The program is being financed with a federal grant that
District Attorney Paul Connick Jr. and U.S. Rep. David Vitter,
R-Metairie, helped secure.